TCFF Day 2: Reviews of The Sapphires and Eyes Of Thailand Doc

The 9-days-long film fest continues with more great films! Early this afternoon, I was able to see The Sapphires. I somehow left this out of my list of TCFF movies I’m excited about, but man am I glad I saw it! It’s one of those films that came out of left field but really made an impact for me.

I also got to go to the Educational Panel of Minnesota Filmmakers in between The Sapphires and It’s a Disaster, which was pretty insightful. I was especially impressed by the producer of The Eyes of Thailand doc, Jim Vandesteeg, who was moved to produce the film when he met director Windy Borman.

Here are our reviews of the day:

The Sapphires

Set in the late 60s, the film chronicles four young Australian Aboriginal girls who have big musical talents and even bigger dreams. Inspired by a true story, it definitely has all the ingredients to be an inspiring musical drama.

It opens with the three sisters living in a rural Australian town as sisters Gail and Cynthia are getting ready to go on a singing competition in a nearby city. The youngest, Julie, has the most beautiful voice of them all, but she’s too young to go and their mother forbids her to go, but of course that won’t stop such a headstrong girl. The scene of the beautiful family singing together with their mother is so stirring and it definitely makes you fall in love with these girls and want to root for them all the way through. What I love most about these girls is that despite being outcasts in their own native land, they aren’t wallowed in self pity and are rightly proud of who they are.

It’s no surprise they didn’t win the competition given such an overt racism that’s still prevalent in those days, but they ended up meeting Dave, an alcoholic talent scout with a penchant for soul music. Dave recognized the musical potential of these young girls, and he believes that soul music is what the girls should be singing. The scene of him convincing the girls to switch from country music to soul is quite fun to watch and Chris O’Dowd as Dave instantly charms you with his down-on-his luck personality but with a big, big heart. The addition of a fourth member of The Sapphires deal with the atrocious reality of how the Australian government practically kidnaps the fair-skinned kids from their family to be raised and schooled as white kids.

But through hardship and perseverance, sisters Gail, Cynthia, Julie and cousin Kay prevail and they got the gig they’ve dreamed of, that is to entertain U.S. troops in Vietnam. They didn’t even have a name when they auditioned for that gig, but when it’s over, they come out as The Sapphires. It’s in the war-torn South East Asian country that the girls learn about love, friendship and war, and their journey is full of joyful, funny and touching moments that will stay with me for some time.

Deborah Mailman (Gail), Jessica Mauboy (Julie), Miranda Tapsell (Cynthia) and Shari Sebbens (Kay) all did a wonderful job in their roles. Even though the actresses playing the Sapphires aren’t well-known, the acting feels authentic to me. I LOVE Irish actor Chris O’Dowd (who’s hilarious in The IT Crowd) as Dave, he has such an earnest quality about him that makes you like him despite his flaws. He has a sweet chemistry with Mailman who plays Gail whom he shares the most screen time together.

The Sapphires was co-written by Tony Briggs, the son of one of the real-life singing group, which explains the personal feel of the way the story is told. The music is excellent and definitely makes you want to groove along and makes your heart soar. I don’t know if the actresses themselves know how to sing but their voices are absolutely phenomenal, I wouldn’t even mind buying the CD for this.

The Weinstein Co. acquired the US rights of this at Cannes, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see this movie being mentioned a lot come award season. I highly recommend this if it opens near you. This movie is a triumphant celebration of family, friendship, music and most of all, the human spirit.

4.5/5 stars

The Eyes of Thailand

The opening sequence is an animated retelling Buddha’s life as an elephant, which provides a nice anecdote to the main story. The focus is on an elephant hospital, called Friends of the Asian Elephant, that specializes in animals that are victims of land mine explosions. It is heart-wrenching to see the two main elephants – Mosha and Motala – move around on three legs, along with the early images from when they first arrived to the hospital.

In addition to the story of these elephants road to recovery, the hospitals founder, Soraida Salwala, retells her struggle with gaining backing, and where the idea for F.A.E. Elephant Hospital came from. Her efforts have not only helped the lives of the animals treated in her facility, but it has also spread awareness of the land mine problem in that region of the world.

Thailand’s borders are still littered with land mines from the 60s and 70s, and inhabitants in the surrounding countries use them as perimeters for their camps. Elephants and humans alike fall victim to these weapons. After the screening the producer relayed some statistics that went along the lines of “it takes $3 to create a mine, but it costs $1000 to remove one, and that 90% of people injured by land mines are civilians” (as opposed to troops – which is who they are intended for.)

The film has a website – of the same title – to go with it. The web page provides much more detailed information on the topic that is not presented in the film, and contact information if there are still unanswered questions.

I enjoyed it, it was eye-opening to see the images of what it really costs to have a war. The Eyes of Thailand had a good message, a just cause, and I liked that all of the people spoke English (sometimes subtitles detour an audience). The animation could have been more refined and there could have been smoother camera movement, but overall it was worth seeing. It’s a great heroic story of Soraida Salwala, a passionate woman who dedicated ten years of her life to help two elephant landmine survivors, Motala and Mosha, to walk again after losing their legs stepping on a landmine. Treating their wounds was only part of the journey; building elephant-sized prostheses was another. Narrated by Ashley Judd.

– review by Emery Thoresen

3/5 stars

Thoughts on either one of these films? Let us know in the comments.

10 thoughts on “TCFF Day 2: Reviews of The Sapphires and Eyes Of Thailand Doc

  1. PrairieGirl

    The Sapphires sounds right up my alley – 60s soul music. It’s certainly a must on my list now, along with Sparkle. Fun to see you on Saturday, Flixy, and your excitement right after you got out of the film. I think I was among the first to hear how much you liked it ;-D

    1. This is definitely your movie, Becky! I don’t even mind seeing this again when it’s out on DVD. The music/singing are wonderful, I think the soundtrack might be worth buying. And yes, you are the first who heard how much I adore this one 😀

    1. Indeed Fernando. I haven’t seen Eyes of Thailand but after reading Emery’s review I can’t wait to see it. I got to meet the producer and he was very nice. I hope the film gets a wide release.

    1. Oh man, if you love O’Dowd you’ll love this movie even more. I had never heard of him but I really, really like him now. I do have a penchant for the Brits & Irish lads! 😉

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